A degree of difficulty: Anne Spackman on a student's first battle before studying begins - finding a flat

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The Independent Online
Finding a good flat in London normally requires more skill and ingenuity from students than passing a degree. They have to keep a look-out for any good hand-

me-downs from final year leavers or, if that fails, they must get in to the accommodation office before the post-A level stampede later this month.

Which means now is a good time to start hunting.

The good news on the property front is that rents in all bar the most prohibitively expensive areas are still pegged at 1990 levels. The bad news is that Tube and bus fares are so expensive that they form a crucial part of the equation.

Mike Maltby, the accommodation officer at University College, reckons their average student is looking to keep the rent plus travel bill to pounds 65 a week. That normally means finding a room in a shared house in a Zone 2 area.

Students at central institutions such as University College tend to gravitate up the Northern and Piccadilly lines to Finsbury Park, Holloway and Kentish Town. Here, Mr Maltby says, it is relatively easy to find a room for pounds 60 a week.

But that won't leave enough in the budget for a travelcard. Students either have to hunt a little harder for the pounds 50- and pounds 55-a-week places or buy a bike.

He has found increasing numbers of students are opting to pay as much as pounds 75 a week for a room in Soho or Bloomsbury, so that they can avoid transport altogether. Others are going to Docklands where there are plenty of bargains around. Many students dismiss the area as too difficult to get to, but for those at Queen Mary College on the Mile End Road it is fine. Their average student rent is pounds 10 a week cheaper.

Rentals south of the river are also cheaper, but few students whose colleges are on the north bank are willing to look south. Those at colleges in the west tend to concentrate their search in Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, where prices are similar to north London.

Apart from word of mouth, the University of London accommodation office is still the prime source of rental addresses. Mr Maltby estimates they have about 5,000 landlords on their database with around 15,000 potential student homes.

Slightly wealthier students can find a flat through an estate agent. Edward Heaton, manager of Winkworth in Hammersmith, said he was surprised how many students could afford quite high rents.

'The students who come here have an amazing amount of money to spend, he said. 'And they can be quite picky. We occasionally take on things which really aren't in wonderful condition and they prove quite difficult to rent. They all want separate bedrooms. There's no sharing any more.

The students he sees are paying between pounds 60 and pounds 90 a week for a room in a shared flat or house. If a landlord can get that sort of rental it often pays to take four students paying pounds 350 between them, rather than to rent it to a family who could only pay pounds 300 a week.

'The landlord has to decide whether to take more money from students or go for less money and potentially less wear and tear, said Edward Heaton.

The reputation of students for treating their homes like pig-sties seems to be receding. Richard Stanborough, lettings manager for Winkworth's Islington office, said: 'The misconception of students living up to their necks in pizza boxes and beer cans is completely out-of-date. Most of the students are very focused and professionally minded.

He gets most of his student customers from the new University of North London and the City University. They tend to end up in areas such as Holloway, Kings Cross and peripheral parts of Islington.

Mr Stanborough has also had some student parents coming in looking to buy a flat for their own child to live in and share with other student friends.

This tends to be more the preserve of foreign students. He has just sold a two-bedroom ex-local authority flat in good condition for pounds 55,000 to a man from the former Yugoslavia, whose son is coming to London to study.

Most of the students looking to rent in the private sector are second-years who have spent their first year in college. But numbers are being swelled by two groups of first years: one group is the overflow from the polytechnics turned universities, which have fewer student residences and fewer established landlords; the other is the increasing number of mature students, who have no wish to repeat their 18-year-old lifestyle.

'Quite a number of first-years apply to live in post-graduate blocks, said Mike Maltby. 'When you look at their forms, you notice they are 28 not 18.

He says landlords' perceptions of students have improved as students have become older and more sober.

'Students are welcomed by many landlords now.

Mr Maltby recommends that people house-hunting now try to agree a nine-month rather than a 12-month lease, starting from next month.

'It's OK going for 12 months from June, when you know what you are doing over the summer. But if it's 12 months from September, you may have totally fallen out with each other by June and three months' rent is a lot of money.

(Photograph omitted)

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